I always try to grow as many different plants as possible and I am glad to say that there are not many groups of plants that have avoided me so far – well things that I can sensibly stand a reasonable chance of growing with some degree of success. That means that I have had a lot of failures as well as successes, but that all leads to useful experience.
But I have not grown nuts – if you pardon the phrase. The main nuts that stand a chance of succeeding in this part of the world are walnuts, sweet chestnuts, almonds and hazelnuts. Sweet chestnuts and walnuts are big trees, too big for average gardens, though my friend Joy has a walnut in her garden that is very productive and gives her enormous pleasure in autumn when the fruits drop and the nuts can be extracted from the fleshy, hand-staining, coating. I remember when I was a child a large walnut in a neighbouring field that we used to visit for the annual harvest. But walnuts are big trees and their leaves produce toxins that suppress the growth of plants under them. You also have to wait quite a few years before you get a crop. Sweet chestnuts are beautiful big trees and their ‘flowers’ are attractive but I have not taken the plunge and am not sure if I will – they need a hot summer. Almonds are an option and there are now dwarf kinds that can be grown in pots. But although they are lovely when in flower, almonds suffer from peach leaf curl so I am not sure I want the hassle.
So hazel nuts are the ones for me and they have several other advantages apart from being capable of producing a decent crop. They are mid-sized, whatever that means, have attractive male catkins, essential to pick with daffodils, have an attractive shape and, if older stems are cut every now and then to moderate their size you have a supply of useful pea sticks and bean poles.
To get a good crop of nuts you are supposed to plant more than one variety. This seems odd to me since each tree produces small, red, spidery flowers at the same time as the male catkins that shed pollen into the air, to land on the females. But I suppose that if you have several trees, that shed pollen over a wider period of time, it will encourage fertilisation.
Another reason for planting hazelnuts is that fresh nuts, eaten just as they are ready, are so milky and delicious and so different from the dried nuts you buy.
So I have planted a selection of hazelnuts. I wanted to create a feature in the garden that would give me a woodland-look and create some shade and shelter for hostas. So I ordered ten plants, in five pairs.
With so much wet weather I have been unable to dig over the area but yesterday managed to get it done.
So I had to spread compost over the area, dig it all in and then mark a circle about 8m in diameter. And then the hazels went in about 2m apart.
Cobnuts and filberts
Although these are very similar, there is a difference. Cobnuts are produced by Corylus avellana, the true and native hazel. Filberts are the fruits of Corylus maxima. Cobnuts have a short husk, not covering the nut while filberts have a longer husk, covering the nut.
My selection consists of:
‘Kentish Cob’ Now, as is the way of things, this is actually Corylus maxima and so a filbert!
‘Cosford’ a common, reliable cobnut. My great aunt and uncle also lived in a Tudor farmhouse a stone’s throw from Cosford House, near Thursley, Surrey and Bert used to coppice hazels for bean poles. It seems a perfect way to reflect and celebrate this old, sustainable way of life.
‘Butler’ a cobnut
‘Nottingham’ a filbert
‘Webb’s Prize’ a cobnut
I have planted them in a circle with the two halves mirroring each other. The soil is rather heavy which is not best for them. Hazelnuts can grow in sun or part shade and this site is to the north of the house so does get shade in winter but I am hoping there will be enough sun in summer. This is not the time to deal with pruning but I should shorten the main shoots this winter and then, as they grow, restrict the number of stems from the base to about ten, pruning to shorten the sideshoots and keep the centre open. But these will be regarded as ornamental as much as productive so we will see how we go.
There is more to do. I have to plant more sarcococca in a ring around the hazels. These were seedlings I found under an old plant and they grew incredibly slowly at first but the patience was worth it to be able to plant an evergreen ring of sarcococcas around the hazels. This will emphasise the circle as well as provide amazing fragrance in a few years. I am planting yellow cornus between the hazels – from hardwood cuttings. And then I need to get my bulbs in. The reason for rushing all this is that the daffs need to go in pronto – so you know what I am doing next weekend!
There are other corylus species and I already have Corylus colurna in the garden. It has been very slow to establish and is grown more for its lovely shape than the nuts. It makes a fine specimen tree for all but the smallest gardens.
I mentioned this lovely shrub the other day and said that I wanted to buy one. Well, now I have! I was collecting my hazels and other fruit from English’s fruit nursery at Adamstown, Enniscorthy and popped into Beechgrove garden centre where they had some fine plants, 1.2m high for just 11 euro. So I bought one immediately.